TL;DR – Better safe than sorry.
How can you tell if the Singapore economy is still facing considerable headwind? There are a number of ways. One of them is to look out for companies retrenching their staff. Earlier this year, we had a rather high profile case where Surbana Jurong made a shock announcement that it would let go of 54 employees.
We’re quite sure that until then, not many people have heard of Surbana Jurong. So maybe not many people were too concerned even though they felt outraged by the way Surbana made their announcement. This time round, a much more well-known Singapore company has announced that it may retrench employees.
This time round, it’s SIA. SIA is currently undergoing a deep and broad review of its business in a bid to revive earnings. SIA’s CEO, Mr Goh Choon Phong told reporters at the sidelines of the the annual meeting of the International Air Transport Association that SIA’s employees are aware of the possible headcount reduction under the process. The last time SIA had to retrench employees was in 2003. Back then, SIA let go 414 staff.
MNCs also retrenching
It’s not just Singapore-brand companies that are retrenching staff. Even MNCs are doing so.
Just days after losing the Singtel account, advertising and public relations firm Ogilvy & Mather announced that it will let go of 20 of its 400 staff here in Singapore. Then there is General Motors (GM). As part of the restructuring of its regional office in Singapore, GM will let go of 130 of its staff here. And there have been rumours of hard drive manufacturer HGST retrenching staff too.
Ministry of Manpower’s 1Q2017 Labour Market Report showed that although redundancies are down, the number of resident long-term unemployed is going up, and total employment fell by 6,800 jobs.
Given all this news about companies retrenching people and unemployment rates inching up, you would have thought that people will be quite worried. You would have thought that most of us would start thinking about how we can make ourselves less likely to be retrenched. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead, it seems that most people think that retrenchment is something that happens to someone else.
Don’t delude yourself. It can happen to anyone.
So what can you do about it?
And if it does, what can you do about it?
First, if you are a union member and your company is unionised, then your situation isn’t that terrible. At least the union can help ensure that you get fair compensation.
For instance, when HGST last retrenched staff in 2013, the union ensured that all retrenched staff were given the proper retrenchment terms. Not only that, the United Workers of Electronic & Electrical Industries (UWEEI) also held a job fair for affected staff. It also arranged for workers who are Singaporean or permanent residents to attend employability camps and executive workshops by e2i before the job fair.
It was through the efforts of UWEEI that Mr Kwoh Choo Chye found gainful employment after he was retrenched. It wasn’t easy. Mr Kwoh was 60 years-old when he was retrenched. But with the help of an employability coach from NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) and UWEEI, Mr Kwoh managed to make a career switch into the public transport industry.
Second, you can pick up skills to make it easier to switch into another industry. That was part of the journey that Mr Kwoh went through. In addition to the career coaching sessions by e2i, Mr Kwoh also went for various courses, including an IT-course. The effort he put into the course paid off. He said:
“One part of this (IT) course focused on passenger customer service, which taught me how to properly respond when a customer makes any queries. This helped me during my interview with the transport company”
Mr Kwoh’s journey took 20 months. He was fortunate that he had his retrenchment benefits (negotiated by UWEEI) to tide him through while he retrained and until he found a good opportunity. Not everyone is as fortunate. So it’s better to start now. If you have a sense that your industry isn’t exactly doing very well, it’s good to start looking around now to see what industry might be a good one to switch to.
I want to… but how?
The first thing you would want to do is to keep a lookout for what are the sectors of the economy that are still growing. These sectors are still short of people. These sectors include the ICT sector, the logistics sector, healthcare sector, and early childhood education sector.
Then, you want to make use of all the tools around to figure out what it takes to move into that sector. Speaking with employability coaches from e2i is a good place to start.
Beyond NTUC, there are also other tools. For instance, there is this platform called JobKred. It’s a platform that uses big data to help individuals “find the right career, learn the right skills, and get the right jobs.” According to JobKred, they allow users to input their skills and receive recommended careers, identify and acquire the key skills employers are looking for, and also receive career planning recommendations.
But it’s so hard…
Yes. It is. Change is difficult. Often, we succumb to inertia. But if we don’t force ourselves to keep abreast with changes to the economy, don’t keep on picking up new skills and making ourselves relevant, and actively managing the progress of our careers, then we may end up having change forced upon us. And when that happens, it’s usually a painful crash.
By that time, the process to recover would take longer and be more difficult. Do we want to wait till that happens and regret? Probably not. So let’s start now.